How do individuals navigate situations in which their work-role identity is put in conflict with their social identities such as race/ethnicity, nationality, or citizenship status? The study systematically assesses strategies employed by lawyers and judges as they attempt to manage multiple, and potentially conflicting, identities and it seeks to understand the circumstances under which these identities affect job-related interactions. The research examines changing legal guidelines that have resulted in en masse hearings related to immigration cases. This change provides a site for observing heightened identity conflict between role identities (a form of personal identity that often focuses on work roles) and social identities. In particular, judges and lawyers take on a specific work-related role identity that entails assisting in the conviction and sentencing of people with whom they share a particular social identity/race/ethnicity, but do not share another social identity/citizenship. This research bridges a gap and also expands other research to recognize and categorize identity management strategies such as distancing, assigned vs. asserted identities, and impression management.

This study asks the following research questions: 1) Do Latino/a lawyers and judges involved in these cases manage their potentially conflicting identities differently than non-Latino/as? 2) Is a shared social identity with defendants detrimental or useful in the work of these Latino/a lawyers and judges? To answer these questions, this research employs a mixed-method qualitative research design, including: content analyses of legal documents, media reports, and activist publications; ethnographic observations of courtroom proceedings; and interviews with attorneys and judges (both Latino/a and non-Latino/a) that include an embedded experiment.

The resultant theory of conflicting identity management will contribute broadly to future research on identity. Conflicting identity management theory will also inform best practices on how to deal with potentially conflicting identities in work settings. The research can also contribute to specific understandings of how the criminal justice system deals with racial/ethnic issues surrounding immigration crimes and en masse proceedings. Understanding the broader effects of the program on legal professionals is especially important not only to social scientists but to society at large.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES)
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Patricia White
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University of Arizona
United States
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